The state is recommending that Green Mountain Power be fined up to $50,000 for violating noise levels last winter at its Lowell wind project.
The state has also suggested that if regulators impose the fine the utility should use the money to improve sound monitoring at the site.
The Public Service Board will hold a hearing Thursday on whether it should sanction Green Mountain Power for the noise violations.
But first, the board wanted to know what the state and others involved in the case think is an appropriate penalty. The state has recommended a range of possible penalties, from $1,000 to $10,000 for each of the five violations. Geoffrey Commons is the lead lawyer for the Department of Public Service, the state agency that represents consumers. He said additional monitoring could also be useful.
“In our testimony, we did suggest that if penalties are assessed against Green Mountain Power for the violations that have been found it might be in the public interest for that money to go toward increased monitoring at the site,” he said.
For its part, GMP said the sound violations were an unfortunate blemish in an otherwise near-perfect record. Vice President Robert Dostis said fines aren’t necessary, although he noted the decision is up to the PSB.
“Ninety-nine point nine percent of the time we were in compliance,” he said. “Obviously we’re doing a very good job. It is a new plant and we’re learning as we go along. We are committed to 100 percent compliance. We have put in place practices that will help assure us we will get there.”
The 21-turbine Lowell project went on line late last fall, and last winter was its first experience with cold weather operation. GMP said in testimony filed with the Public Service Board that it did not anticipate the impact that snow accumulating on the turbine blades would have on sound levels. The company said it will install video equipment so it can look out in real time for adverse weather conditions.
Don and Shirley Nelson live below the Lowell ridgeline. They said the sound levels have been high recently in the summer months. And Don Nelson noted that it has been known to snow in northern Vermont in December.
“Well, my God. Can you imagine?” he said. “We tried to tell them that mountain’s sometimes covered in hoar frost, you know, for two, three weeks at a time.”
The Nelsons said GMP should pay the maximum penalty of $140,000. And they want the company to do continuous sound monitoring to make sure it is in compliance.
“The fine in the long run isn’t going to do a thing, because we’re still going to have the noise,” Don Nelson said. “But if they could have full time noise monitoring, that would be the best way to go. That’s the way I think of it.”
Shirley Nelson emailed the Public Service Board that the turbine sound in the last week has disrupted her sleep and given her headaches. GMP said it had not yet received those complaints.
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